How Can Sugar Fit Into the Holidays?
Why do we love sugar so much?
We love it because sugar helps to create serotonin. It gives us that feeling of instant gratification. Hello comfort food. It has the power to light up the signals in our brain that generates dopamine. Unfortunately this ‘sugar high’ eventually crashes and burns and that short term ‘feel-good’ effect has now landed in fatigue and irritability valley. Can we really call something a comfort food if later on it leaves us feeling uncomfortable? Known side effects of extensive sugar consumption vary from anxiety, fatigue, irritability, hyperactivity, and difficulty with focus and concentration. As a mom, I know that I don’t want to send my kids off to school feeling these emotions while trying to learn. Similarly, I don’t want to show up to work trying to manage my tasks feeling depleted and in a head fog.
On the other hand, I am NOT a nutritionist who believes in complete and total restriction, which is also known to contribute to food binges, resulting in a damaged relationship with food and our body.
So how do we encourage our kids to participate in holiday fun, and manage all of our temptations and health at the same time? How do we keep food traditions during the holidays without becoming legalistic about our food?
Watch how you talk about food!
Labeling food as ‘good’ and ‘bad’ has the risk of attaching moral value to our food, which can impact how we feel about ourselves after we eat those foods labeled ‘good’ and ‘bad.’ This is often connected to the ‘all-or-nothing’ mentality which suggests, “I ate bad today, therefore I am bad and don’t know how to diet, so I should just throw in the towel and eat all the bad foods, since I am bad.” This kind of thinking has harmful effects on both children and adults, and can throw us into the hamster wheel of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ eating which can spin the weight ‘yo-yo’ throughout our life. Did you know that constant drastic losing and gaining can cause more harm on our metabolism than taking the time to first change our relationship with food and our body, even if that means losing less and at a slower pace, but being able to keep it off?
So what should we do? Instead talk about how foods make us feel. If we mostly eat foods that make us tired, than we will be tired and not able to do our best in school or work. Similarly, if we stay up late watching tv every night, getting up for our alarm in the morning will be challenging. However, staying up to watch a movie with the family on occasion can fit into our routine without having negative effects on our concentration every day. Similarly, having a “play food” on occasion can fit into our life, without having a major negative spin on our health.
This kind of language can be used at holidays too. We can learn to enjoy the traditions of holidays which include dressing up, spending time with friends and family, traditions, and yes even certain foods. Fitting those ‘play foods’ into our holiday can be a beautiful fun thing, but saturating our days with ‘play foods’ will likely have a negative impact on the work and balance that we aspire to have most of the time. The challenge in our culture is that our holiDAYS often become holiMONTHS. Try to approach food just like you approach money or work. If we frivolously spend lots of money all month long, we won’t be left with enough to pay our bills. Or if we often call in sick to work to go play, then we won’t have many sick days left for when really are sick and need them.
Provide you and your kids plenty of whole delicious foods around the ‘play foods’ so that the treats become the sprinkle on top, rather than the star of the show. Saturate your holiday season with beautiful dense nutrition so you can focus on the memory making with loved ones, rather than the sluggish gut bomb that you have to recover from at the end. Remember that ‘play foods’ can be fun in moderation, but when they become the rule, and not the exception, it can have negative effects on how we feel, but it never changes our moral value.
I will never be the nutritionist that tells you not to have desserts around the holidays. But I might suggest some beautiful alternative dessert recipes that don’t leave you feeling sick at the end, and I will encourage you to saturate your meal with all the beautiful vegetable dishes and protein so you have energy to go enjoy an activity with your family after the meal to make even more memories.
Food is beautiful. And so are you!